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The invisible labor and multidimensional impacts of negotiating childcare on farms


Social science inquiries of American agriculture have long recognized the inextricability of farm households and farm businesses. Efforts to train and support farmers, however, often privilege business realm indicators over social issues. Such framings implicitly position households as disconnected from farm stress or farm success. This article argues that systematically tracing the pathways between farm households and farm operations represents a potentially powerful inroad towards identifying effective support interventions. We argue childcare arrangements are an underrecognized challenge through which farm household dynamics directly influence agricultural production. We draw on interviews and focus group data with farmers in the Northeastern United States to understand how farmer–parents access and negotiate childcare. Farmer–parents value raising children on farms, but express reluctance to expect current or future labor from them. Years with young children thus represent an especially vulnerable phase during a farm’s trajectory. We identify and analyze social, economic, and cognitive pathways through which childcare impacts farm operations. Social pathways include relationship tensions and gendered on-farm divisions of labor; economic pathways include farm layout and structure; cognitive pathways include how farmers think about and plan for their operations. Explicitly acknowledging such issues can better equip farmer–parents to anticipate and plan for conflicting demands on their time. (author abstract)

Resource Type:
Reports & Papers
United States

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